Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Work Sharp Hints and Tips

I started to write this as a response to a comment but it became too long and involved, so I thought I'd throw it up here as a post by itself. This is my personal experience with my Work Sharp 3000 and how I've learned to use it best for what I do and how I work.

Hmmm. General advice on the Work Sharp...

Up until very recently I was using the Work Sharp (WS) the standard way, by putting my tool on the bed of the port underneath the wheel and moving it up and back, etc... It works pretty good with some caveats.

Small chisels, for example, were hard to keep straight. Even though fence would be tight up against the tool, because not every chisel is perfectly parallel all the way, some taper a slight bit, that means it would be tighter at the bottom of the fence then at at the top. This leads to the problem of grinding the edge at an angle, rather than 90-degrees across. Once you realize this about a particular tool, you just have to learn to compensate by figuring out which way you twist it to counteract the force of the spinning disk that wants to pull your tool off of center.

I also have a little trouble with the port because the abrasive on the base of the port is rougher than what you're using to finish the bevel. So, even if you're using 3600 or even 6000 on the bevel, the scratches on the back will be something like 220 (I think that's the grit of the abrasive).

When I got the wide blade attachment, and began to use it, I realized how much easier it was to use the whole machine like a scary sharp system that moved for me.

The wide blade attachment is an aluminum bed that attaches to the side of the top of the glass disk and makes a theoretically flat, parallel bed off of which you can use their included honing guide with the abrasive on the spinning glass disk.

The trick to the aluminum bed is to make sure for each disk you put on, that you check the level of the bed against the disk. For some reason, thickness of glass disk, thickness of abrasive paper, or whatever, different disks require me to adjust the level of the bed each time. Fortunately, that's a relatively simple and quick operation involving a small allen wrench I have hanging on the pegboard behind my bench.

The operation is a fast as, unscrew the top knob, replace or flip the wheel, screw on the knob, check level and give a quick quarter or half turn with the allen wrench if needed in one or both adjustment holes, turn it on, and sharpen. All together it takes me about 10-15 seconds to change a wheel and adjust. This is more than made up for by how fast I can sharpen a tool because I don't have to move the tool, I just have to focus on keeping it at a consistent angle.

Once I've established an edge, it takes me less than a minute to take a really dull chisel back up from 1000 to 3600 to 6000.

With plane blades, I use the honing guide. The trick with their honing guide, and perhaps using one of the other ones out there would be better, is to make sure the blade's clamped tightly so it stays consistent across wheels. If I have a lot of work to do on a blade, then I'll go all the way back to the 80 grit. Otherwise, I treat it like I do the chisels.

The Work Sharp is great for flattening the back of a plane blade. The trick to this is that you only really have to care about the top of the back, i.e. the part right up against the edge, and when you go apply the plane bade to the wheel, tilt it downwards so that the important part of the blade touches last. If you try and place the blade straight down thinking you're going to be parallel, you won't be. You're instead going to be in danger of dubbing over the back and putting a micro-bevel on the back of the blade. If that's what you're looking for, fine, but otherwise, touch the edge of the wheel first with the middle of the blade (don't worry, you won't carve a groove in it) and bring the edge of blade down last. I've had great luck getting even knarly, corroded old blades to be in great shape using this. It takes much less time than any other method I've used.

Two other accessories you'll need: Sharpies and a Magnet.

The Sharpie marker is great for knowing just when you've worked over a piece of metal and when you're not quite there. Sometimes it's nice and obvious, but for those pieces that require a lot of work, or for tricky tools, like small bevels, I'll draw lines along the surface I'm grinding with the sharpie and then when the lines are all gone, I've taken off the surface I need to and can move to the next grit. It's quick, cheap and invaluable for knowing when enough is enough.

The second accessory I've found invaluable is a magnet. The one great drawback to the WS, which is true for any dry sharpening technique, is the production of lots of iron filings. This is a messy operation. I've found that by having a large magnet around (not a massive one, but something large enough to handle a bunch of filings, but no so large it messes with the electronics in the machine) that cleanup around the top and on my bench is much easier. I'm actually keeping the filings in a small plastic container and will find some use for them later.

This brings up the topic of heat. As you're grinding metal on abrasives you will produce a fair amount of heat. You get too many iron filings around and they can actually catch on fire and create sparks. Be careful where you use your Work Sharp. Mine is in the garage away from any flammables and I'm always keeping an eye out for where the sparks go and try to keep them down to a minimum by wiping my blade on a folded paper shop towel sitting on my bench in order to take off most of the excess filings that can stick to the blade itself.

The advantage of using the designed port for sharpening is that the base of the port is made as a heat sink so that it takes away some of the heat on the blade when you draw it back across the abrasive bed. I use the aluminum base of the wide blade attachment as the same thing as I'm grinding. I keep my fingers close to the edge of the blade, and if it gets too hot for comfort, which it will do fairly quickly at the lower grits, then I'll flip it over and press the back of the blade to the aluminum bed of the attachment, and hold it down tightly using the rubbery abrasive cleaner that comes with your Work Sharp. It only takes a few seconds, generally, for the heat to dissipate enough to resume work.

And speaking of the rubber cleaner, I always run it across a disk as I change or flip it. This makes the disks last a whole lot longer and cut better. I leave the motor running and just start on the inside and draw it outwards to the edge. It works fine.

Hmmm. I'm not thinking of anything else at the moment, but if you have specific questions I'd be glad to answer them. I will say that i've not yet used the slotted wheels for under-wheel sharpening, but plan to try soon. So, I hope this has been useful.

Overall, I like the Work Sharp. It's a solid piece of machinery that I've made to work well for me. It makes the drudgery of sharpening a bit easier and I've gotten better results than other ways I've tried. Others, I'm sure, get better results with other methods, but the important thing is to work with sharp tools, regardless of how you get there.


Oh, P.S., I have no relationship with Work Sharp, have never spoken to them except to ask customer service a question, and haven't gotten so much as a brass farthing or single sheet of abrasive from them. It's just my opinion.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Where, oh where, has the little woodworker gone?

Summer is never a good time for woodworking in the Incidental household. Spring and Summer are not the only two seasons this time of year. It's also gardening season and performance season. Mrs. Incidental teaches ballet and so requires a lot of extra time during performance season and that's when I get to watch the Galoot in Training (GIT) who, at four-years-old, is still young enough to need me nearby and paying attention, and I'm still "responsible" enough to not just stick him in front of the TV while I go off and woodwork. (thought I'm sure he'd be fine with that).

Mrs. Incidental is also an avid gardener. Here in North Carolina the growing season is very long (March to October) but there's a hole in the middle where gardening stops and it's just mainly maintenance. That's just beginning about now when it gets just too hot outside to do much more than deadhead and mow the lawn.

So, it will soon be time for me to get back into the shop. As a matter of fact, I did get some shop time this weekend, but it was all taken up with the woodworker's favorite job, sharpening.

Since that seems to be a subject of much debate, interest and religious wars, I'll briefly mention what I do to keep my tools as sharp as possible. (which we all know to be important)

I've tried various means through the few years I've been butchering wood. Scary sharp was my favorite for a while, but I got tired of changing the sandpaper and could never keep it cutting well for very long. But it did teach me to be pretty good at free-hand sharpening, at keeping a fairly consistent position with my hands. But it also seemed to take for ever if I needed to re-grind a blade, especially a plane blade, that had gotten out of square or had a nick in it etc...

I've never seriously tried water stones as I'm too cheap to get into it, and for the ones where you have to keep them soaking, I just don't do it often enough and I'm afraid of the water getting funky before I come back to the stone. I tried a couple of oil stones and a synthetic stone or two. I have an old razor hone that was new-in-box when I picked it up an an antique store that's kind of fun to use for a quick hone of a paring chisel while I'm working, but none of them seemed to find the right balance of cheap, easy, fast and effective.

In the end I decided to meet myself half-way on the cheap part and splurged for a Work Sharp 3000. These are the spinning machines with the horizontal glass plate that uses sandpaper for the abrasive. They look like they're a really cool design and they are pretty well-made, but it's taken me a while to figure out the best way for me to work with mine.

After a couple of years of sharpening on it I've found that for me, I almost never use the sliding port at the bottom that is meant to be the primary point for sharpening. Instead, I bought the wide blade attachment which gives you a wide, flat surface adjacent to the top of the spinning plate. With this and a honing guide, I can sharpen just about anything with minimal fuss and pretty darned good results.

I have a set of glass disks with various grits on them: 80, 120, 220, 400, 600, 1000, 3600 and 6000. I also have a leather disk with green rouge, but have never gotten into using that.

For plane blades I use the honing guide and the wide blade attachment. For chisels I'll use the honing guide the first time to repair a crooked or badly chipped edge. (remember, I'm fairly cheap so I'll buy good chisels in bad shape if they're cheap) Once I get a good edge on a chisel, I can sharpen the edge extremely quickly by hand. Once you have a good technique for hand sharpening, it's really easy on the Work Sharp because you don't have to move your hands, just keep them still. The disk moves for you.

To re-hone a blade, I'll usually start out at the 1000, or maybe 600 if it's seen a lot of use, and then spend a few seconds on each grit back up to 6000 which puts a mirror finish on it. Easy peasy, 30 seconds for a chisel.

The disadvantage of the Work Sharp is that it's harder to put a camber on a plane blade, but I'm working on that skill as well. It's also not as sexy as a set of exotic Japanese, high-tech, water stones. But it works for what I do.

Overall, my goal is "sharp enough" without having to get into the level where you hold the blade edgewise to a stiff breeze for the final honing. It will fall off of that level of sharpness the first moment you even look at the wood. And I've seen some amazing work down by workmen just taking a few swipes on a rock. So, I don't get all too fired up about absolute perfection with my sharpening, and the Work Sharp, which sits on my fix-it bench in the garage is good enough for me, especially as I've found the way that it works best for my skills (or lack thereof).

If anyone's interested I have a few more tips for working this way with a Work Sharp, but I don't want to turn this into a Work Sharp workshop. (say that five times fast!)

So, I will be back working on the bench in the next month or so. I have to finish up sharpening the tools I've been dulling on the maple to this point, and then I'll get another week in July to finish up the bench, so look for more activity at that point. (did I mention that my woodworking was rather incidental, and sporadic?)

Thanks for those who have noticed that I've been a bit absent these last couple of months. In the words of the immortal bard, "I'll be back." (that was Shakespeare, wasn't it? No? Well, his name started with an "S" so close enough)